When café owner Simon Warren lost his business on Martin Luther King Drive in 2010 due to an electrical fire, the longtime poet and coffee lover was encouraged by friends to rebuild.
“You have to open one up again,” Warren said friends told him. “They’d meet outside of the building and pray,” he added.
In July 2011, Warren purchased a two-story building, at 2035 W. Fond du Lac Ave., to reopen Sweet Black Coffee, and has since been working on renovating the space.
Bordering Lindsay Heights, Sweet Black Coffee is a 2,800-square-foot café that will offer a “pork-free” menu of coffee, bakery and deli sandwiches, including vegan sandwiches. Warren also plans to host open-mic poetry and live jazz throughout the week.
“We’re actually very excited,” said Jacqueline Ward, managing director of North Avenue/Fond du Lac Marketplace BID 32. “He will bring an artistic crowd to the area. That kind of cultural experience will be good for this community.”
Employees at surrounding businesses, such as Columbia Savings and Loan Association and Best Buy Furniture, also welcome the addition to the neighborhood. The business manager of Best Buy Furniture, 2103 W. North Ave., said that it would add value and reduce crime. He declined to give his name.
“If you want to make it a safer area, bring more businesses here,” he added. “Don’t ignore the area; work on it.”
“If it’s a good business, he’ll bring traffic and revenue,” said George Gary, president and CEO of Columbia Savings.
Bradley Thurman, owner of Coffee Makes You Black, located in the northeastern end of Lindsay Heights at 2803 N. Teutonia Ave., said the new coffee house is a plus for the community. “The more coffee houses the better. Coffee houses become places of networking and the passing on of information,” Thurman said. “This city could probably use 20 more.”
Coffee Makes You Black, which has been open for eight years, tends to attract a “more mature” crowd, according to Thurman.
Warren opened his first café with a business partner in 1998 to offer a place where poets could gather to share their work in a venue that sold coffee instead of alcohol. The original Sweet Black Coffee was located in the Riverwest neighborhood on East Burleigh Street
Since then, Warren has worked for other cafés. Additionally, he was a community organizer for the Harambee Ombudsman Project, Inc., and a community consultant and technical assistant for the Harambee Great Neighborhood Initiative.
“I love coffee, but there’s a lot more that comes with owning (a coffeehouse),” Warren said. “I love talking to people.” He described owning the café as “very community-oriented,” and intends to build upon that by offering businesses and organizations free office space for meetings.
Sweet Black Coffee is scheduled to open in April.